Abbott government's wind energy health review unnecessary

Leigh Ewbank

Chain Reaction #120, March 2013,

The Abbott government has ignored all previous evidence on the matter to announce yet another review of wind energy and human health. Is another review needed? Here are a few points to consider.

1. Independent studies already conclude wind energy is clean, safe

There's already a wealth of independent knowledge on wind energy and health. There are now 19 reviews by credible health bodies which show wind farms are clean and safe.

In 2010, Australia's authority on medical health research, the NHMRC, published a rapid review of wind energy and health. It concluded: "The health effects of many forms of renewable energy generation, such as wind farms, have not been assessed to the same extent as those from traditional sources. However, renewable energy generation is associated with few adverse health effects compared with the well documented health burdens of polluting forms of electricity generation. ... There are no direct pathological effects from wind farms and that any potential impact on humans can be minimised by following existing planning guidelines."

In May 2013, the Victorian Department of Health released a review on the subject, concluding: "There is no evidence that [wind turbine] sound which is at inaudible levels can have a physiological effect on the human body. This is the case for sound at any frequency, including infrasound." (Victorian Premier Dennis Napthine's decision to chip in $100,000 to fund the Abbott review suggests he doesn't have confidence in the Victorian Department of Health.)

State planning bodies have joined these public health authorities with the assessment that wind energy is clean and safe. In 2013, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal dismissed wind energy health scare claims when they approved the Bodangora and Cherry Tree Range wind farms.

2. Abbott's posturing on wind / health – favours for friends? 

The Abbott government's announcement satisfies the wishes of the anti-wind farm Liberals who are ideologically opposed to renewable energy.

The Prime Minister's hand-picked business advisor Maurice Newman is staunchly opposed to wind energy. Newman has threatened to take legal action against farmers who install wind turbines near his rural property in Crookwell, NSW. Newman is well-known for tirades against wind farms and against the Renewable Energy Target, and for denying the science of climate change.

Australia's most active wind farm opposition group, the Waubra Foundation, has links to the Liberal party. Former Liberal politicians Michael Wooldridge and Alby Schultz hold positions with the organisation. The foundation frequently argues for more research on the subject. And that is what the Abbott government is delivering.

3. Anti-wind strategy of doubt and delay

Anti-wind activists have a track record urging more research, while ignoring the 19 reviews which show wind energy is clean and safe. High-calibre research conducted by the NHMRC and Victorian Department of Health costs hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the public purse. It also diverts limited public resources from investigating real public health issues. Why waste more taxpayer money on another study when wind farm opponents have already made up their mind?

4. Australians have made up their minds on wind energy

All available public polling shows wind energy enjoys strong public support. Wind energy is the cheapest form of generation. It creates jobs and drought-proof income for farmers while addressing climate change.

Polling by Essential Research conducted in June 2013 found that 76% of Australians support building more wind farms. Wind energy is popular among Coalition voters, with 71% supporting more wind farms.

It's puzzling that a Prime Minister who has suffered a significant drop in support in the polls would stall the popular wind energy sector. It's in the interest of Prime Minister Abbott to pursue policies that reflect mainstream public opinion. Yes 2 Renewables urge the PM to listen to the Australian public, rather than kow-towing to radical fringe opinion.

Leigh Ewbank is a campaigner with Yes 2 Renewables, Friends of the Earth Melbourne's renewable energy campaign.

A longer, referenced version of this article is posted at